Nail guru Deborah Lippmann has polished everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Mary J. Blige, not to mention countless models and social butterflies along the way. But she says you don’t have to be a pro to master the at-home manicure—just follow her step-by-step guide. Files at the ready? Polish on.
At-Home Manicure Step 1: File
After you’ve removed any old polish, gently shape your nails with a file. Lippmann says that the trendy nail shape (currently a longer, slightly tapered nail) isn’t always the most flattering. Instead, mirror the shape of your cuticles to get the most natural, elongating shape for your hands. When filing, always file in a single direction. “Never saw back and forth! The edge of your nail will end up peeling away,” says Lippmann.
At-Home Manicure Step 2: Buff
You exfoliate your face to remove dead skin; the same principle goes for your hands. Use a gentle buffer to create a completely smooth nail surface. But don’t go crazy —Lippmann says, “You’re essentially just dusting the top of the nail. Don’t try to remove ridges or bumps.”
At-Home Manicure Step 3: Clean Up Your Cuticles
Cuticles form a protective barrier between the skin and the nail, and healthy cuticles equal healthy nails. The reason you push cuticles back is to prevent them from encroaching on the nails and suffocating them. First, apply a cuticle remover, which has ingredients to dissolve dead skin, and then use a cuticle pusher to gently press cuticles back from the nail, all around the nail. “You shouldn’t be scraping your nail and it shouldn’t hurt,” says Lippmann.
At-Home Manicure Step 4: Prep the Nail Bed
Apply cuticle oil or cream and massage in until it’s completely absorbed. Using an orange stick covered in cotton and nail polish remover, clean the nail, avoiding the cuticles. “Don’t forget to clean underneath the nail and the tip — you want to get all the oil off before you apply your polish,” says Lippmann.
At-Home Manicure Step 5: Apply the Base Coat
Pick a base coat that fits your needs. “If you have thirsty nails, go with a hydrating product,” or use her Ridge Filler base coat, which smoothes out the nail and dries matte. “It creates such a perfect foundation that it’s practically impossible to screw up the color,” Lippmann says.
At-Home Manicure Step 6: Choose Your Color!
Ideally you should apply polish in three strokes: one down the middle, and one down each of the sides. That doesn’t always work (even for Lippmann herself) but she says to apply five strokes max — “any more and it’s never going to dry.” Take the brush and wipe off one side on the edge of the bottle; this will give you just the right amount of polish. Set the brush a little bit away from the cuticle (the polish will spread toward it anyway) and drag the bristles toward the tip of the nail. As a final step, hold the brush slightly vertical and lightly paint the edge of the nail tip.